Milo Garner reviews Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest.
Endless Poetry begins as 2013’s The Dance of Reality ends. The final scene of that first entry to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical pentalogy is repeated to introduce the audience to this new, but familiar, film.
Its familiarity comes in many forms. The most obvious is its stylistic resemblance to the first film, both in its vibrant colour scheme and somewhat overbearing lighting, but there are also connexions to Jodorowsky’s filmography in general. It’s uncertain whether the prevalence of armless people, dwarfs, crossdressers and so on are here part of his auteurial trademark, or as part of the past that influenced that trademark later on – probably a mix of the two. But the clearest link is the already-mentioned narrative bridge, wherein Alejandro (Jeremías Herskovits) and his parents, Jaime (played by Jodorowsky’s real-life son, Brontis, in a strange role reversal) and Sara (Pamela Flores), have left their home in Tocopilla to settle in bustling Santiago. Here the young Alejandro soon becomes enthralled with the world of poetry, both in reading and writing, and experiences a small crisis in sexuality when his father accuses him of being a ‘faggot’ for such interests. If The Dance of Reality was a coming of age film where the lead didn’t actually come of age (with the second half of that film instead focusing on the development of Jaime), then Endless Poetry pushes the focus back onto Alejandro, with his artistic, sexual, and familial revelations covered in detail. The exact moment he turns from old boy to young man is made explicitly clear after he comes to find he’s definitely not gay (to his contextually understandable joy), whereafter the actor portraying Alejandro changes to Adan Jodorowsky, Alejandro’s real-life grandson. Being 37, the younger Jodorowsky’s presence changes the physicality of the character quite substantially.
The remainder of the film focuses on Alejandro’s various artistic shenanigans, to varying effect. Much like a sketch comedy there is an element of hit and miss that has also carried over from The Dance of Reality, and, though all the scenes are classic Jodorowsky in their madcap irreverence, mileage varies substantially. For example, early in the film Alejandro meets a girl, Stella, to become his first girlfriend. (She is played by Pamela Flores, who also portrays Alejandro’s mother – a Freudian field day.) Being herself a radical poet she acts as muse to Alejandro’s work, and also serves as the portal to his sexual awakening – the problem being that none of their scenes function too well. At one point they visit a seedy gay bar, whose nature only learn after entering, and Alejandro is attacked by gay thugs seeking to rape him. This leads to a ludicrous fight scene in which Stella single-handedly takes out the gang of attackers – in theory this could be funny, as Jaime defeating a squad of Nazis in the former film was, but in practice the purpose of the scene seems only to reinforce how not-gay Alejandro is, even after improvising a line of poetry (so the film leads us to consider). On the other side of the fence are scenes like one toward the end of the film, which details a huge Fellini-esque carnival across Santiago, complete with dancing skeletons and red devils. Visually this section is incredible, with the desaturated colours and upbeat music making for a kinetic atmosphere and images about as memorable as Jodorowsky has managed, which is saying a lot. Soon after, the scene is reflected by another: a Nazi march led by Ibáñez (Bastian Bodenhofer), who is followed by an army of masked (faceless) followers. The political comment, if it can be called that, is obvious, yet so surreal that it doesn’t cease to amaze.
On the note of visuals, Endless Poetry looks about the same as The Dance of Reality did, so sharing its successes and its faults. To start with what went right – the vibrancy and scale. As in his older films, Jodorowsky has presented a varied and exciting colour palette across the board, and no frame is without an interesting element or two. Often these are seeming non-sequiturs, such as the two Nazis outside Jaime’s shop, one ten foot tall and the other pushing four, both shouting ‘war’ constantly. Their presence or purpose is never explained and can be interpreted in a few ways, but as a visual gag little understanding is needed. Other visual elements are weaker. Though colour is emphasised effectively in each scene, there is often a sense the sets are overly lit, or at least overexposed, creating a television type look that doesn’t especially suit the film. Connected to this is a lack of grit, or dirt anywhere – though such a clean look might indeed create a feeling of ‘unreality’ in the film, it seems a little excessive; as El Topo said in Jodorowsky’s 1970 film of the same name, ‘too much perfection is a mistake’.
Considering further the unreality of Endless Poetry, we must note that it belongs, like its predecessor, to a unique brand of autobiographical ‘memory’ film pioneered by Fellini in his 1973 masterpiece Amarcord. This is a genre also visited by the likes of Woody Allen in Radio Days, or the Coens in A Serious Man. Like these other films, Endless Poetry retells the story, or rather a story, of its creator’s life not according to facts but according to his memory of events. This is why Alejandro’s mother only ever communicates in operatic singing throughout (surprisingly, this does not get annoying); it reflects Jodorowsky’s memory of his mother, even if the exact reason for the quirk cannot be established within the narrative. As such, the film works as an effective portrayal of how Jodorowsky remembers his life rather than a portrayal of his life generally. (Even outside a surreal context, and with only a vague knowledge of the director, clear deviances from reality – such as the non-inclusion of Alejandro’s sister – are present.) Once again Jodorowsky stamps his own mark on this particular genre by the inclusion of himself, his real, 87-year-old self, at certain points in the film, where he consoles his imagined younger version with promises from the future. This feature becomes moving at certain points, such as when he implores his younger self to give his father a better farewell, as it would be the final time they were to see one another. His younger self complies and in effect he changes his past to a version he would have preferred, but this time in a way that directly acknowledges his revisionism.
Ultimately, though a little uneven across its runtime, Endless Poetry is of similar quality to The Dance of Reality and stands as another interesting venture into the life of one of cinema’s great auteurs. It counts as the second of five and, assuming such an ambition can be fulfilled before Jodorowsky is no longer able, it will be part of a momentous piece of cinema; presumably it will result in a ten-hour work that could be played as one, assuming such continuity across all its parts as exhibited here. Like many of his other projects, this too might falter for reasons beyond his control, but whatever happens, it’s off to a fairly good start.
Endless Poetry is now in select cinemas across the UK, as well as on demand exclusively via Curzon. See the trailer below: